Since the beginning of Ramadan, tensions has grown between the Palestinians and the Zionists in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and these clashes have spread to the cities of occupied Palestine.
David Frank is an academic expert in debate, rhetoric, critical reasoning and public address at the University of Oregon. He believes that these tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, in addition to the failure of plans such as the two-state plan, are rooted in internal tensions between the Palestinians and the uncertain process of democracy in Palestine.
Frank is a professor of rhetoric in the Robert D. Clark Honors College. His research explores the role rhetoric and argumentation plays to resolve conflict without violence. He has published on rhetorical history and theory, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the rhetoric of Barack Obama, the use of the Holocaust to portray evil in American film, and on the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide.
IQNA: Since the beginning of Ramadan, we have witnessed new tensions in the Palestinian territories. What is the cause of these tensions?
Frank: The new tensions are the products of old tensions. European antisemitism and the Holocaust gave birth to Zionism. Zionism, in turn, founded Israel, which at its founding, uprooted and displaced 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, producing the Nakba, or the Palestinian Catastrophe. The new tensions can trace their origins to these historic traumas that have yet to be worked through. Israelis continue to deny or ignore the pain suffered by the Palestinians and Palestinians have yet to develop, in the face of a horrific occupation by the Israeli military, a workable democratic system.
The current tensions in the Palestinian territories are also rooted in the sacred sites of Islam and Judaism located in Jerusalem. During the period of Ramadan and Passover, these sites become particularly volatile and explosive with the occupation, Palestinian despair, and Israeli show of force combining to yield violence.
IQNA: What is the difference between these recent tensions and the past ones?
Frank: The origins of recent and past tensions remain the same: Antisemitism, the Holocaust, Zionism, the Nakba, Palestinian nationalism, the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the failure of Palestinian democracy, and the inability of the international community, the Israelis, and the Palestinian leadership to craft a workable relationship between the two peoples.
IQNA: Some believe that the root of the continuing tensions in the Palestinian territories is the failure of the two-state plan due to Israeli settlements. How true do you think this is?
Frank: The death of the two-state solution can be traced to the Israeli refusal to fully acknowledge Palestinian nationalism and to the incompetence of Palestinian leadership. Given the Israelis have much more power and the support of the United States, the Israelis are more responsible for the failure than the Palestinians.
The Palestinians, as Rashid Khalidi and Edward Said have insisted, do have some agency and its leadership has not exercised it responsibly. The Palestinians must create a truly democratic system and deploy more effective strategies.
The settlements are a symptom of these longer, historical trends. And they are one of the several roots of the continuing tensions in the Palestinian territories; they undermine any vision of a contiguous and functioning Palestine.
IQNA: What do you think the international community can do to bring lasting peace to the Palestinian territories?
Frank: The international community, which helped create the horrific conditions endured by the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, has a responsibility to A) Provide significantly more economic and infrastructure assistance to the people of Gaza. A Marshall Plan for Gaza would alleviate much suffering. B) Renew the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. This initiative contains the promise of a pragmatic peace that might be minimally acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians. C) Draw from the Geneva Initiative. Although the Swiss have withdrawn funding from the initiative, the vision at the heart of this project, given it is the result of a problem-solving framework involving Palestinians and Israelis who are on the ground, has great potential. The international community can build from the innovative solutions offered by this project. D) India and major countries east of Palestine and Israel should seek to mediate. The United States, justly seen as Israel’s ally, should not play the major role as arbiter and mediator.
IQNA: Some believe that the normalization of relations between several Islamic countries and Israel has actually been to the detriment of the Palestinians? What do you think about this and where do you think the future of this normalization of relations will lead?
Frank: The economic normalization of relations between several Islamic countries and Israel has been underway for thirty years. The so-called “Abraham Accords” serve as official recognition of this historic pattern and as an accelerant. Absent efforts to promote a workable, pragmatic, negotiated, and as needed, mediated relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, economic normalization will mask the ongoing underlying misery experienced by Palestinians. This misery will eventually erupt into yet another series of intifadas or uprisings leading to violence and death.
The Palestinians are not alone in their suffering. As the Arab Spring revealed, many in the Arab world remain in misery and are angry with their respective governments. If economic normalization is not yoked to democratic renewal and social programs designed to promote economic equality, then the result will be continued intifadas and serial Arab Springs.
IQNA: In your opinion, given the failure of the two-state plan, what alternative will there be for the Palestinians?
Frank: 1) The creation of an authentic Palestinian democracy. Palestinians yearn for a system of governance that reflects majority opinion. The current leadership is perceived as inept and corrupt. The alternative is a new system and calendar of authentic elections.
2) A new Palestinian leadership. Abbas and the current leadership are old and are, by the majority of Palestinians, seen as complicit with the Israeli military. A younger and more competent leadership is needed. Public opinion polls suggest Marwan Hasib Ibrahim Barghouti is now, by far, the most popular Palestinian politician, and he remains in an Israeli jail.
3) A new and well-calibrated message to the international community and Israeli audience. Palestinians have made some ground in the United States with progressives and some members of the democrat party. Building from this success, Palestinians should do more than claim Israel is an apartheid state and offer a new plan, or fully embrace the Arab peace initiative or the Geneva project, as options.
4) Engagement in systematic nonviolent protests, based on the model offered by Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The evidence suggests that the use of violence is cathartic but ultimately ineffective, or often counter-productive. There are alternatives to violence, including a much more sophisticated Palestinian diplomatic effort. As Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi have again and again observed, Palestinian outreach to the English-speaking world is too often ineffective.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the position of International Quran News Agency.